COUNCIL leaders and officers remain tight lipped about the ongoing investigation that is preventing auditors from signing off their accounts.

The council has not yet received the external audit certificate of closure from auditors Grant Thornton for 2017/18.

In September, members of the audit and governance committee asked for an explanation on the matter from officers for the new year.

But financial officers said they still cannot disclose details of the problem as they await the conclusion of an investigation being carried out by ‘other agencies and organisations’.

Councillor Liz Harvey, who is on the committee, also asked for an update from cabinet members at last week’s meeting but was not given an answer by council leaders.

Grant Thornton representatives say the matters related to a single issue which they cannot disclose due to confidentiality requirements.

This matter was preventing them from issuing the certificate but they said it had no direct implications for the current audit of the council.

Speaking at the audit and governance committee meeting on January 23, coun Harvey said: “There has been no appetite to share what the problem is with audit and governance committee members even in a closed and confidential session.

“What on earth is going on here?”

She asked if any of the council’s 53 elected members knew what the issue was.

Chief finance officer Andrew Lovegrove said the issue is being held and dealt with by the statutory officers.

“I can’t comment for what the other statutory officers have or haven’t said to others,” he said.

“Grant Thornton have been able to issue their audit opinion for 2016/17 for the accounts and the value for money.

“The thing that hasn’t been given is the final certificate.”

Coun Harvey then asked coun Tony Johnson if he knew anything about the issue, as he was leader at the time.

“It would not be possible to sit in the leader’s office and not have some idea of what this thing is about,” he replied.

“That would purely be my guesswork. Officers have been scrupulous in not giving me official briefing on what this issue is.”

“I don’t know informally, I know out of my own intuition but not by nudges winks or a direct conversation from officers.”

Coun Ellie Chowns said she found it extraordinary that no answers were forthcoming.

“As councillors, the buck stops with us and yet our officers will not formally tell any elected representatives what the issue is that prevents the auditors from signing off on our accounts.

“It is surely part of our role to hold the council to account and as elected representatives we need to know that.”

Chairman Newman asked officers what materiality was behind the matter.

“It is a difficult question to answer. But until the process is further along the chain it is inappropriate to comment at this time,” Mr Lovegrove replied.

“We have been meeting with Section 151 officers on the progress that is occurring.”

“The issue in question is something that happened. It is not an ongoing thing. It’s about what consequences follow from that.”

Coun Newman pressed Mr Lovegrove for an answer on what the legal justification was behind the information’s confidential nature.

“Part of the issue is until more work is concluded and we understand the quantum of the issue,” Mr Lovegrove replied.

Coun Newman said: “Just because it is a sum of money it doesn’t make it confidential.

“Is it related to employment law, is it sexual abuse? What is it?”

At which point council officer Annie Brooks interjected and said the issue cut across a number of things that require confidentiality.

“I can’t quote you specific legislation. It is a complex issue which may or may not go down a range of routes,” she said.

Coun Harvey then asked who the other parties conducting investigations were that are delaying the issue.

But Mr Lovegrove said it would be inappropriate to comment.

Coun Chris Chappell said: “Can’t you tell us what one of the organisations might be?

“We are going back to reputation again. The public will be thinking all of you are getting brown envelopes on a Friday.

“You have to be more open.”